The small woman pulls open the accordion door of the lift.

“The lift has only broken down once in four years, ” she says, twice, and I notice something about her, the dense green sheen of her eyeshadow, or maybe the cheerfulness in her eyes. There’s a soft silence as we push our bodies into the small, metallic space, our eyes fixed on the strips of light and darkness as we move past the floors, towards the soft familiar sounds of old music.

It is dusk and the room is inviting, with its warm dim lights and wooden floorboards. On one side the city skyline stretches out through large and generous windows. It is dark purple and warm pink, at once imperious and gentle, pierced by the sharp lines of the Shard. It’s been a while since I last came to this swing class. A few weeks ago the days were longer, sun streamed through the windows, and I danced, eyes closed, wishing these blissful Sunday afternoons would never end.

The faces in the room are familiar, still. There’s Y, the smiling frenchman, and A with his quiffy mohawk and black piercings. His girlfriend Bug gives me a hug, her pretty round doll’s face framed by a green floral shirt and an inky scarf tied artfully in her short red hair. F is there, of course, with the pale skin and dark circles that have shadowed me from Shoreditch to Farringdon, Angel to Bethnal Green. E stands like a gauche praying mantis, all long limbs and open happy features, a small pork pie hat pushed back on his head.

After class we head for the pub across the road. The barmaid has bottle black hair and orange skin; her accent is thick and heavy.  On a stool by the bar sits a fat persian cat, his face screwed up in disdain as I stroke his grey and white fur.  “He’s a pedigree, he is. He never leaves the pub,” says the old man on the stool next to him. His eyes are glassy and his nose is bulbous and red.

We are tired and sweaty, and we sit with the awkwardness of strangers who have been in each other’s arms. I am fond of them, these familiar acquaintances, fond of their enthusiasm for dancing and laughing and things that are warm and bright. All around the room are portraits of dogs in military uniform. A lone rubber spider hangs by the side of the bar, a remnant of Halloween. Fairy lights have been strung around the window: red, green and blue – a blinking, colourful frame for the sickly potted plant and the greying man who sit beneath it. He is slumped in his seat in brown corduroy trousers. There are wisps of white hair on his chin and temples, and something in his face, something in the grey papery pallor of his skin and the sunken line of his lips tells me with certainty that he has months, maybe weeks to live. Red, green and blue. Blink, blink, blink.

The old man with the bulbous nose shuffles over to the jukebox and feeds it a few coins. He pokes at the buttons, leans back against the bar, opens his arms wide, and sings:

When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother, what will I be
Will I be pretty, will I be rich
Here’s what she said to me.

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.


I danced to her swingy tunes at last week’s Orphanage Ball and I can’t stop listening to her strange, penetrating voice.

Say Hello Wave Goodbye is entirely stuck in my head. I blame the ukulele.

I am in danger of falling in love.

It’s a strange thing, after all these years of avoiding moving to London, how swiftly I have embraced the city. Getting a job here has transformed my experience of it, and I have been swept away, grinning and willing, in the steady, oiled flow of London days, rocked by the rhythm of my daily commutes. There is a joy to being lost here, to finding small treasures in all the bustle and tourist hordes and transportation woes. I think back to the similar post I wrote, this time last year, about Singapore. I couldn’t help listing everything I hated about the place. How my life has changed, how I have changed! I come home, weary from a day at the studio and a long commute, and look forward to the next. I walk, endlessly, through forests and parks, and along the wide, placid Thames with its small shingled beaches and improbable bridges.  I watch people: shiny-eyed toffee-coloured children with hair like cotton candy, angular, dessicated women in worn ballet flats, the man in a camaieu of mustards and yellows rolling a cigarette on the tube. I smile, and I am soothed.

Each week end I try to fit in something new, but it’s hard, even in a city as rich and variegated as this, to resist the lure of routines. Here are 10 of my small London joys. Try them. Let me know if they did anything for you.

1. My bus ride through Peckham

The 363 makes its arthritic way from Crystal Palace to Elephant  Castle in just over half an hour. It is not the most picturesque of routes. It passes rows of suburban terraced houses, the grimness of Lidl, and a street called “Bird in Bush Road.” But passing through Peckham I can see rows of cassava neatly stacked, buxom African women in short skirts and elaborate hairdos, a pile of durian at the Chinese store. There’s the promising, inviting neon of Theatre Local, and when I get off the bus I’m often greeted by a fox who seems to welcome me back home.

2. Crystal Palace Park Dinosaurs

Large Victorian statues of anatomically incorrect dinosaurs. What’s not to love, really.

3. Rose and Pistachio cake

It is perfumed and nutty, gluten free, and topped with a layer of frosting like a cloud of cream. Found at the London Review Bookshop, who have great books and even better cake.

4. Urban foxes

Yes, I know, they are vermin and they root through bins and screech through the night and their shit is pungent (I should know, I unwittingly dragged some into an interview room a few days ago). But every time I see one I am transported to Le Petit Prince, and the fox who asks to be tamed.

5. Jacob’s Ladder burger

This one will need a post of its own. Succulent cow slab with roquette, a generous spread of raw stilton and mustard, served in a toasted sesame brioched bun. GOOD.

6. Sydenham Hill Forest

I am still baffled and delighted by this patch of forest outside my door step, a short 15 minute ride from Victoria station. There are fields of bluebells, twisting lanes that smell of earth and leaves and life, and escaped parokeets in the trees. On the other side lies Dulwich Park, with its outdoors exercise machines, enormously fat geese, and golden horses that canter powerfully along the dirt track. There are also children called Margo and people in those annoying reclining bikes, but you can ignore them.

7. Pain poilâne at Waitrose

This week’s grateful discovery. There’s a Ladurée and a Pierre Hermé too. Who needs Paris?

8. The morning commute

These days I get up at 6 to be in the studio by 8 am, so I can get an hour of writing done before the rambunctious crowds of animators arrive. I find, bizarrely, the hour’s commute restful. It’s a great time to write a few notes down, before my brain is completely clear of the night’s fog, or to just look out the window at the crowded, Victorian rows of Brixton, or the ungainly silhouette of the Shard. There are regulars – a thin, calm woman with a different head scarf tied around her head every day, or the small girl with corn rows with a distracted, blonde mother. I always get a seat.

9. Swing Patrol

Nothing has made me more deliriously happy than taking up swing dancing. I come home sweaty and full of love for humankind, possibly with delusions of being an extra in Swing Kids. I have step-step-kick-kicked my way through a couple of classes, trodden on feet and grimaced apologies at a social dance, and I want more, MORE. It’s like crack, innit. Happy swingy crack.

Last week we did this:


10. Cocktails

Well, some things never change. These guys, in a basement bar rife with girls in twee vintage clothing, make a fabulously pink lychee concoction. Just don’t go if you’re allergic to mould or new wallpaper “artfully” ripped off the walls.

What more can I add to this list?